Jet Ski & Personal Watercraft Lawsuits

If you get hurt while on a jet ski or other type of personal watercraft, and are wondering what your legal rights are, here are some things that you should know.

General Rule – Negligence

If you get injured on a personal watercraft, you must be able to prove that your injury resulted from someone's negligence in order to be able to recover damages from that person. The fact that you got hurt does not mean that anyone was negligent. Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care. This means that you and your lawyer must be able to prove that someone failed to act with reasonable care, and that, as a result of that negligence, you got hurt.

Types of Personal Watercraft Accidents

Operators and passengers on personal watercraft can get hurt if the watercraft collides with another personal watercraft or boat, a rock, or some type of structure, like a jetty or pier. The passengers might also get hurt if the watercraft hits a big wake or wave.

Collision with Another Personal Watercraft or Boat

If you collide with another personal watercraft or boat, liability will depend on the circumstances, but both vessels' operators are likely to be at least partly at fault. Federal and state boating laws and regulations, as well as safe boating practices, require a boat's operator to keep a proper lookout for anything that might be a hazard to his or her boat and passengers. These rules apply to personal watercraft as well. So, if you are operating a personal watercraft and collide with another vessel, you would only have a claim against the other operator if you were less than fifty percent responsible for the collision. The issue of which operator will be more at fault will generally depend on the following:

  • the speed of each vessel
  • the direction that each vessel was traveling in before the collision
  • the visibility
  • the sea conditions
  • the boat traffic in the area of the accident

If you are a passenger on a personal watercraft that collides with another vessel, you would have a claim against both operators for negligence. (Learn more about boat accident lawsuits.)

Collision With a Submerged Object, a Rock, or The Land

A passenger on a personal watercraft that runs into an inanimate object would have a claim against the operator for negligence. There is not generally any defense to running into an unmoving object like a rock or a wall. For the same reason, the operator of a personal watercraft that hits a rock or a jetty is very unlikely to have a legal claim against anyone.

Hitting a Wake or Wave

When a personal watercraft hits a big wake or wave, the jolt to the vessel can knock the passenger around or throw him or her overboard. The operator will not usually get hurt because he or she is usually braced for the shock. Legal liability for a wake or wave accident is not always clear cut. The operator's liability in a wake or wave accident will generally depend on the circumstances, such as the following:

  • the size of the wake
  • the speed of the personal watercraft
  • the visibility
  • the boat traffic in the area of the accident
  • whether the operator warned the passenger that the watercraft was approaching a big wake or wave

The operator of the boat that created the wake may also be negligent, depending on the accident location and the boating traffic in the area. If, for example, the vessels were in a no wake zone (usually found in marinas and in inner harbors), then any wake violates the boating safety rules, and the operator would be negligent. If the boat was zipping through a crowded area, leaving behind a large wake, the operator may be found negligent for creating too large of a wake for the area. But if the accident occurred in an isolated area, then it is very unlikely that the other operator would be found to be at fault.

Damages

Just like in a car accident case, if a boater acted negligently and you became injured as a result, you are entitled to damages. Your damages may include the reasonable value of your medical bills, your lost earnings and lost earning capacity, and pain and suffering.

How Insurance Coverage Affects Your Case

Even if someone else was at fault, that does not mean that you will be able to recover damages from that person. If the person has no boaters' insurance and no assets, he or she will not be able to pay you damages. Motor vehicle insurance does not cover injuries on boats. Homeowner's insurance might provide insurance coverage for these injuries, but not everyone has homeowner's insurance, and not all boat owners have boating insurance coverage through their homeowner's policy. Nor will you be able to file a claim against your own homeowner's insurance for this type of injury. Unlike motor vehicle coverage that usually includes uninsured benefits, homeowners' insurance policies almost never provide coverage for the actions of other people who do not have insurance.

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